New curricula and emerging programs are reshaping today's graduate who leaves business school with an M.B.A. degree in hand.
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As the global business landscape shifts and changes, M.B.A. programs are following suit. New curricula and emerging programs are reshaping today's graduate who leaves business school with an M.B.A. degree in hand.

M.B.A. courses feature cross-functional, interdisciplinary curricula

You'll hear these phrases so often they'll sound like a mantra. Across the country, graduate-level business schools are reshaping curricula to teach students the importance of solving problems by synthesizing a variety of subjects, such as combining marketing courses with information technology to prepare marketing managers for using data mining, customer relationship management, and other IT-based tools.

Faculty members from different disciplines coordinate their syllabi and teach in teams to students who work in teams. When Stanford added a new course in human resources management, for example, it was designed by professors of organizational behavior and economics. Cross-functional approaches have also proved resoundingly popular with students, who give them the thumbs-up in surveys.

To stay at the top, M.B.A. programs revise their emphases

Whether they are specific sequences or subjects woven into the fabric of M.B.A. courses, you'll find strong mentions of entrepreneurship, ethics, innovation, and leadership development in nearly all basic and advanced business programs whether you are looking at an on-campus or an online M.B.A. program.

Purdue's PL+S Program (Preparing Leaders and Stewards) provides additional course work, community service opportunities, self-assessment, and self-directed team consulting projects with real-world companies, all as avenues for developing leadership skills. Harvard's "foundations" program places heavy emphasis on career planning, self-assessment, working in groups, and business ethics.

An emphasis on entrepreneurship reflects the reality that "the majority of M.B.A. graduates will not work in Fortune 500 companies, because they have been downsizing the most," notes Charles Hickman, former director of projects and services at AACSB International, which accredits M.B.A. programs in the United States.

For those who do work inside large organizations, a new perspective has emerged: intrapreneurship. Employees with breakthrough ideas are being encouraged to establish new businesses in-house by developing them as separate ventures under the corporate roof. Schools are also placing greater emphasis on social entrepreneurship, preparing managers to bring their business skills to the non-profit sector.

On an individual level, the trend in curricula has been toward flexibility. Graduate-level business programs are introducing initiatives to personalize the management development process. If a student's skills are underdeveloped in a certain area, such as finance, the M.B.A. program will be sure the student has the opportunity to take courses that will address that weakness. A growing number of business schools address the need for flexibility by offering an online M.B.A. program that features residency requirements that range from zero-residency to two or more on-campus conferences during the course of the program.

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